Author: Peter Drysdale, Editor, East Asia Forum
Japan’s ‘defenceless on all sides’ security strategy has served it well through the post-war period, underwritten as it has been by America’s security guarantee and continuing presence on Japanese soil. Despite the steady accretion of its military capabilities, the ‘peace’ constitution allayed anxieties within Japan’s neighbours, China, South Korea and the newly independent Southeast Asian nations, about Japanese military intentions. Even the US alliance framework could be properly explained, as it famously was by former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, as a bulwark against any resurgence of Japanese militarism. The ANZUS treaty was after all a US security guarantee to Australia and New Zealand specifically directed at keeping Japan in an American box.
Japan now lives in a very different neighbourhood. Its position in the region has changed fundamentally. The role of the United States is also evolving rapidly around the rise of China and others in Asia. Many now see the limits to US reach and there is growing acknowledgement of its vulnerability to Chinese power in the Western Pacific down the track. America’s political commitment to its security partners is being questioned in Japan and South Korea. Some argue that Japan is deliberately testing the strength of the American military commitment in its contest with China in the East China Sea.